Feb 23, 2024 - News

Giant pandas' return to San Diego could fuel conservation efforts

Two pandas eating leaves.

Bai Yun and Zhen Zhen in 2008. Photo: San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

San Diego expects a pair of giant pandas back at the zoo this summer — marking a renewed opportunity to celebrate, study and help save the species.

Why it matters: The celeb-status bears' return will draw bigger crowds, more money and a renewed research focus on the "vulnerable" population, bolstering conservation efforts.

Driving the news: China's government plans to send one male and one female panda to the San Diego Zoo, if all permits and other requirements are approved, the AP first reported late Wednesday.

The big picture: The San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance serving as home to nine pandas from 1996 to 2019 has been crucial for the survival of the species, according to the zoo.

Zoom in: Over more than two decades, the wildlife alliance worked with the China Wildlife Conservation Association to protect and recover the giant-panda population, which was on the brink of extinction, zoo officials said.

  • It started with Shi Shi, Bai Yun and their cub, Hua Mei, who was the first panda born through artificial insemination to survive into adulthood outside of China.
  • Bai Yun and her other mate, Gao Gao, had five cubs, and the zoo helped increase survival rates for nursery-reared cubs from 5% to 95% with new neonatal techniques and products.

Yes, but: In 2019, the zoo's last pandas returned to China, marking the end of an era for San Diego.

Reality check: Despite the gains, giant pandas still face threats of climate change, habitat destruction and population isolation.

  • The zoo's new conservation strategy aims to improve the population's health and resilience, which includes research on disease prevention and habitat protection.

What we're watching: One panda China may send is a female descendent of the former zoo residents Bai Yun and Gao Gao, according to Megan Owen of the zoo's wildlife alliance.

  • The zoo's panda habitat area is temporarily closed for renovation and expansion.

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